CDC reassigns official who drew spotlight for pandemic warning

CDC reassigns official who drew spotlight for pandemic warningApril 22, 2021

CDC respiratory disease chief Nancy Messonnier has been reassigned from her position heading the agency’s Covid-19 vaccine task force, according to three people familiar with the move.

Messonnier is being absorbed into an incident management response team headed by CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. But the situation remains fluid as CDC restructures teams under Walensky’s leadership.

An agency spokesperson said that the CDC vaccine task force was established separately from the Trump administration’s vaccine accelator, Operation Warp Speed, so that the federal response could more easily focus in on the task force’s recommendations. Now that vaccines are in use, the vaccine task force duties will be reassigned to Henry Walke, the director of the agency’s Division of Preparedness and Emerging Infections.

Messonnier, a prominent respiratory disease scientist who has been at CDC for more than two decades, led the CDC’s early planning for the nationwide distribution of coronavirus vaccines. She also angered top Trump administration officials early in the pandemic after warning that its impacts could be “severe.”

Messonnier remains the top respiratory disease official at the CDC. She is still employed by the agency, a spokesperson said.

“It’s not a question of if this will happen but when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illnesses,” she said on Feb. 25, 2020, triggering a stock market dip as fears of a pandemic grew.

Messonnier clashed with the Trump administration over those comments, leading the administration to halt her regular press briefings and her appearances with the White House’s coronavirus task force. Former President Donald Trump threatened to fire her and publicly dismissed her dire projections.

Messonnier’s long public silence was supposed to end when President Joe Biden assumed office and strove to put more scientists at the forefront of the pandemic response. But she also had differences with Biden officials, according to a person familiar with the discussion.

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